You don't immediately think of the Olympics or yoga championships when you think of yoga. But there is a small but growing movement for encouraging competition in yoga with yoga celebrities like Bikram Choudhury at the forefront of the movement.
Yoga competitions currently judge asana (postures) based on strength, flexibility, alignment, difficulty of the poses demonstrated and overall demeanour and execution. More about it in the emerging trend and Olympic Yoga aspirations in this interesting article in the Telegraph this week.
The arguments against competition in yoga are relatively obvious. For a long time, and now more than ever, the tools and techniques of yoga have been used for individual development. Using bodywork, breathing, study, meditation etc. with personal aims that will be different from one person to the next. You might be at your group yoga class working on an old back injury that your yoga practice helps, the person next to you in a class may be settling an over anxious mind. How can there be a competition in this?
But to reject the notion of yoga as an Olympic sport as an obviously ludicrous notion perhaps could be short-sighted. If you agree that the more people who practice yoga the better, and that the benefits to practicing yoga are widespread and adaptable and have lots to offer people from all walks of life, then it naturally follow on on from that that the more people who know about yoga the better - and what better way to get to know about it than seeing it on TV in the Olympics? Of course that is a simplistic argument, and what you would see on TV would be a range of twisted bodies doing gymnastic type moves. But it could pique curiousity, and be followed up by perhaps venturing to a yoga class to find out more about it. The onus is then on yoga teachers to gradually introduce the student in to the full range of potential that yoga has to offer. Perhaps this could inspire a new wave of people to try yoga, or perhaps it would just foster more spectator participation which really would miss the point. The physical beauty that makes up one of the aspects of yoga does deserve spectators. BKS Iyengar emphasises this in his approach to teaching as a way to encourage uptake and participation. So perhaps Olympic Yoga a natural extension of this?
Patanjali would almost certainly disapprove and have no interest in this as a pursuit. In the Yoga Sutras he warns against getting caught up in the physical comforts that yoga can bring, seeing it as a big potential pitfall. But in the West the physical benefits are the typical starting point for anyone trying yoga. That is the reason for getting involved. So perhaps Olympic yoga isn't as far off as perhaps we might think it is, and not as ludicrous as it initially sounds.
Founder of YogaSpace, 2009
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